“The usual for you Bradley?” Celina leaned across the bar and offered a big smile. Her snug V-neck sweater dipped down revealing the firm curve of her figure.
“Tall and cold,” he said and slid onto the bar stool.
“Sounds good,” she said and sauntered toward the beer tap.
His glance lingered on her for a few seconds, a smile spreading across his face. He looked in the mirror behind the bar and watched as the men—and some women—spilled in. Weary and dust covered, they moved slowly, ruminating over events on the assembly line—dropped parts, loose solder, slow timing—the usual aggravation.
Celina pulled the tap, her silver bracelets jingling as they slid down her arm. She eyed the golden liquid as it foamed to a head. She smiled at Bradley as she returned with the full mug. “Here come your buddies.” She nodded toward two men walking up behind him.
Bradley turned around and raised his hand indicating the two bar stools next to him. “Hey, Jimmy. Hey, Hank. What took you guys so long?” he asked. “My beer's gettin' warm waitin' for you two to show up.”
Jimmy clapped Bradley on the shoulder. “Oh, poor boy. Wouldn't want my best buddy to have a warm beer. What do ya think Hank? Should our pal have to suffer through warm beer?”
Hank splayed his fingers across his chest. “You guys are breaking my heart. Warm beer! What could be worse?”
The three men laughed in good humor.
Jimmy turned toward Celina. “Ya got any lite beer on tap?”
“Sure do. It's two for one for another hour.”
“Great, bring 'em on.”
Hank shook his head. “Lite beer? What a sissy!”
Bradley laughed. “Hey, Jimmy how's that diet coming along? You drop any weight yet?”
Jimmy ran his hand across his ample midsection. “It ain’t goin' so good. Haven't lost a single pound.”
Bradley slapped his hand on the bar top. “I wonder why? Maybe it has something to do with drinking two brews at a time, just 'cause they're on sale.”
“I think you're on to something, Bradley,” Hank said and they both laughed.
“Are you boys being nice?” Celina asked and winked at Jimmy. “Why are they picking on a nice fella like you?”
Jimmy drew his head back. “Yeah, why're you guys pickin' on a nice fella like me?” he mocked.
The bar filled up, as did the booths and tables. A better-dressed crowd started to trickle in. Couples squeezed shoulder to shoulder. Men in clean shirts. Women in clinging outfits of sparkle and ruffles. Talk and laughter rose above the music creating a jumble of sound. The three men shouted to be heard.
“What's goin' on tonight?” Bradley asked Celina as she rushed by, a loaded tray held above her head. Bradley surveyed the crowd and tipped his glass to a few familiar faces.
Celina laughed. “Love, my man, love is what's going on tonight.”
“You mean you don't know?” she asked.
Bradley shrugged. “Know what?” He looked at his two pals. “You guys know anythin'?”
Celina's eyes widened. “It's Valentine's Day you big lugs!” She shook her head. “You boys are hopeless in the love department.” She moved into the crowd balancing her tray as best she could.
Jimmy set his lite beer on the bar top, mid-swallow. “Jeez. I better get out of here and fast.” He lifted the mug to his lips and gulped down the remaining beer. “You boys can have my freebie.”
“What's the big rush?” Hank asked. “Where're you goin'?”
“The big rush is, I'm already in the dog house with the Mrs. for gettin' home late and I have to come up with a good story. Now I find out it's Valentine's Day! I may have to move from the dog house to the animal shelter.”
“Go on, you big sissy!” Bradley said.
Jimmy ran his fingers across his chin. “I think I'll stop at the gas station and see what I can bring home for my lovely wife.”
“Bring something home?” Bradley asked.
Jimmy nodded. “Sure. It'll work out just right. I'm late gettin' home 'cause I had to stop to get her a gift for Valentine's Day. Sounds perfect to me,” he said. “Might even bring a little lovin' into the house tonight.”
Hank shook his head. “You are a big sissy! Tied to the apron strings are you?”
Jimmy stood and tossed cash on the bar top. “You bet I am. Not much love in the air at my house to begin with and I ain't goin' to miss out on the little bit I might get tonight.”
Bradley checked the time. “It's a little late in the game for tonight isn't it? What's your plan?”
Jimmy smiled broadly. “First, I'm gonna call the Mrs. and tell her I'm runnin' a little late and let her yell at me for a while. That always makes her feel better. Then I'm gonna find candy or flowers or a Tee shirt or whatever they have at the convenience store. When I get home and she sees what I brought her she'll feel bad for hollerin' at me. I'll offer to forgive her and then, well, you never know what might happen.”
“How do ya think she's goin' to feel about the beer on your breath?” Hank asked. He slapped Jimmy on the shoulder. “You better get some mouthwash while you're pickin' out that special gift for your bride.”
The three men laughed.
“Sounds to me like you're turnin' into a real lover-boy,” Bradley said.
“You guys can laugh all you want. I'm goin' home and offer hugs and kisses to the woman I love,” Jimmy said. “I'll shower and shave and take my sweetie out to dinner.”
“Never knew you were such a smooth operator,” Hank said. “You dog!”
Bradley picked up Jimmy's second lite beer and tipped the mug toward him. “Didn't know you were a schemer. All these years, I thought you were just a big push-over.”
Jimmy smiled. “That's me, the guy who's a big push-over.” He leaned in toward his buddies and lowered his voice. “I'm also the guy who's gonna get lucky tonight.” He turned his back and waved over his shoulder as he walked away.
Bradley gulped down the lite beer. “No wonder that sissy, hen-pecked, son of a gun drinks this awful stuff!”
As the night wore on and the crowd thinned out, Celina finally had a chance to slow down. She slid onto the empty stool between Bradley and Hank. “I see you guys are still standin'.” She smiled. “If either of you had any sense, you would've followed your friend out that door and got yourselves home to your wives.”
“What's the big deal?” Hank asked.
Celina frowned. “It's Valentine's Day, that's the big deal,” she said.
“Who cares? You gals take all that silly stuff too seriously,” Bradley said.
“Which is exactly why you should too,” Celina said.
“I'll do something nice for my wife on the weekend,” Hank said. “I'll tell her I needed more time to find something really special just for her.”
Bradley ran his hand through his hair. “Can't do it this weekend. We've got bowling league,” he said.
“Bowling league? I forgot about that,” Hank said. “Well, maybe I can make it up to her in two weeks if I don't have anything else goin' on.”
“Sounds good to me,” Bradley said.
“You guys are killin' me,” Celina said. “You sound like my Uncle Luke.”
“Was he married to one of those high-drama gals? The kind of woman who keeps track of birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and all that stuff?” Bradley asked.
Celina glared at him. “No. He seemed to be married to an old muscle car he kept in the garage.”
“A muscle car? He sounds like my kinda guy,” Bradley said.
Celina smirked. “At first he loved that ol' car. Spent all kinds of money he couldn't afford makin' it perfect. Every free minute he had, he was washing it, waxing it, and checking for dust on the windshield. He was always tinkering under the hood. He'd take her out and show her off every chance he got. He absolutely loved that car.”
“Why not? I can understand that,” Bradley said. “I love my 4 by 4.”
Celina squinted her eyes. “Well, let me tell you boys what happened. Uncle Luke got busy with other things—his motorcycle, his rifles, his drinking buddies, his dogs. Soon he didn't have time to be fussin' over his muscle car as much as he used to. Every once in a while he'd decide to take her out for a drive, but you know, after ignoring her for so long, the tire pressure was low, the A/C needed some freon, the belts had cracks, the hoses were dry rotted.”
Hank readjusted his baseball cap. “That's no way to treat something as special as all that.”
“Exactly,” Celina said. “If you ignore something you used to love, it may not be quite right when you get around to wantin' it again.”
The two men looked at each other. Bradley lowered his voice. “Hank, do you remember the first car you were in love with?”
“Sure do.” He shook his head. “It was a real beauty. About broke my heart when I drove it into a canal.” He looked at Bradley. “A little too much brew that night for sure.”
“Is that right?” Bradley said and shook his head. “I ran mine up a tree—looked like someone took a backhoe to it when they towed it away. I cried like a baby to see it go.”
Celina raised her eyebrows. “So sad to hear your hard-luck stories about losing your vehicles. Hope you boys don't lose anything else that causes you that much heartbreak.”
Bradley slowly nodded his head and then stared at Hank. A few minutes of quiet passed between them.
Bradley rubbed the stubble on his chin. “Hmm, well I guess I oughta be gettin' home to the wife.”
“Me too,” Hank said.
They stood, pulled cash from their pockets and laid it on the bar top.
“'Nite, Celina. Thanks for everything,” Bradley said.
“Celina you have a nice Valentine's Day,” Hank said. He turned to Bradley. “I just might make a quick stop at that convenience store myself,” he said. “You know, have a little look around.”
Bradley nodded and looked at his pal. “Good idea. Mind if I come along?”
# # #
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Copyright 2017 by Valerie Allen
A Good Thing on a Bad Day
A License to Practice
A Marriage of Convenience
A Mother's Love
A Tooth for a Tooth
Fire Engine Red
Fit for Life
Home for the Holidays
I Remember Momma
Just Be Cos
Ladies in Waiting
Love is in the Air
Mother Knows Best
No Goin' Home
Split Second Timing
Thank You, Mr. Jackson!
The Garden of Love
The Lonely Life of Amanda Miller
The Penalty Box
Words of Wisdom
~ ~ ~
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or events, is entirely coincidental.
Printed in the United States of America. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the author.